When describing the behaviour of Vietnamese in traffic I often use the word antisocial. Some actions that are normal to them are considered antisocial to us. If you’re walking on the street, many times a bike stops just in front of you nearly driving over your toes to park, so you have to avoid walking into them. When they come from an alley they just drive onto the street without even looking. I got bumped into a few times. They don’t wait for you to cross, but do what they want to do. Driving on the pavement and honking at pedestrians to move over is common. Putting out a signal to turn right and then turn left is prevalent. Cutting people off, driving on the wrong side of the road, turning in the middle of the street and causing congestion is standard behaviour. This is what I would consider antisocial or egocentric behaviour. Vietnamese think it’s completely normal behaviour and are surprised if you comment on it. What is considered antisocial or egocentric in one society doesn’t necessary mean antisocial in another society. As my friend from Paris told me, this has a lot to do with the almost non-existing traffic rules. And the rules they do have: like stop a red light, are not even set in stone. Yes for some traffic lights you have to stop, for others you don’t. It’s anyone’s guess, which lights…And yes, you are allowed to drive on the pavement. Looking straight ahead and not paying attention to the traffic behind you is the only rule everyone follows.
When I looked up antisocial in the dictionary I found the following descriptions: socially incompetent and bothersome to others. Unwilling or unable to conform to normal standards of social behaviour and shunning contact with others. The last: shunning contact with others is definitely not true, since Vietnamese are almost always in the company of others, physically that is. The other part is true, but they don’t see it as antisocial. They want to park, they want to get somewhere and they just do it, without regards for others. For them this is normal behaviour.
For many Vietnamese antisocial behaviour means something else as a Vietnamese friend told me. After he got some tattoos his father told him he was antisocial. The reason was that he didn’t care about the impact his tattoos had on how the family was being perceived by others. Others might think he looked like a criminal with these tattoos and therefore was considered antisocial. This would rub off on his family and they would have to answer for that.
Even though my Parisian friend doesn’t like the Saigon’s traffic any more than I do, according to her many things are not that different from the traffic in Paris. So maybe the French influence is still prevalent here?